The temperature: absolutely freezing. The hour: just after sunrise.
Location: At the bottom of a training hill in Vail, Colorado, waiting for Lindsey Vonn to finish a few races to test her surgically repaired knee just before the 2014 Sochi Games, an Olympic she has eventually lost because of this annoying knee.
"Why on earth would you expect that ?!" Vonn asked me, incredulously, throwing her parka at him.
That one did not need an answer.
If you've been waiting in an icy cold, leaning against the fence to wait for an interview or, as a fan, plan your entire day to see Vonn – even if it's only a magic split second when She spun you to the mountains – so you were not alone. You were lucky. Freezing, maybe. But lucky.
Because such a greatness does not come up often.
In an unscientific survey of fans, friends, family members and rivals to find the word that captured her best, each person responded with a variation of three – a podium to describe the skier the most successful of the World Cup.
It may be for this reason that she continued even after each outside and inside sign told her to stop.
At 34 and with knees who simply refuse to cooperate, the Olympic downhill champion 2010 and the winner of the World Cup title four times in total from the starting gate for a last time at the world championships Sunday in Sweden. It was the vintage Vonn while she was traveling the downhill course to win a final podium – a bronze medal that looked like pure gold. Before leaving the stage, she greeted the crowd and made one last salute.
A well deserved moment in a career full of crushes and setbacks, celebrations and triumphs, broken bones and hearts, red carpets and golden opportunities.
"The fascinating story of Lindsey is neither his victories nor his medals. It's his audacity, his will to work extremely hard and his courage, "said his father, Alan Kildow, who moved the family from Minnesota to Colorado to help feed her daughter's talent when she was young. "Without fail, there can be no real victory, and Lindsey represents the will to risk failure to finally realize his dreams."
Word of the podium n ° 1: resilient.
The picture was discordant: Vonn was away from the mountain by helicopter after a violent accident.
Not once. Two times.
The first helicopter tour took place after a downhill training accident before the Turin 2006 Games. Two days later, with a bruised hip, she finished eighth in the downhill. The other, in February 2013, at the world championships in Austria, when she tore her ACL and MCL. It took her months to come back – she injured her knee again and it cost her the shot to defend her downhill title at the Sochi Games – but her return was positive.
Returns and tenacity have always been his thing. Her father likened her to Rocky Balboa because she is "the man of all time who gets into the ring, takes a beating and gets up from the canvas to win the fight."
This ability to bounce back has served well during a career including torn knee ligaments, broken bones, a sliced thumb, and so much more.
Her first World Cup start was on November 18, 2000, in a slalom race in Park City, Utah, and she did not qualify for the second run. She was known as Lindsey Kildow until she changed her name to Vonn after marrying her ex-husband, Thomas, in 2007. They announced their divorce in 2011 and she was not married. never changed names because, well, the world knew her Vonn. During her marriage, she was separated from her father, but they repaired the relationship.
She would have won 82 World Cup races, four fewer than Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, who showed Sunday at his request – and made comparisons with his compatriot Bode Miller, who was revered for his high-risk approach.
"We are proud of what she has done for the sport, inspiring so many young boys and girls and showing that you can compete with the big European superstars," said American runner Daron Rahlves.
As a US Ski Team doctor for more than 20 years, Dr. William Sterett can not help but marvel at his resilience.
"I do not know anyone in any other sport that has had to bounce back as many times as it has," Sterett said. "She came back as tough and motivated as she has ever been."
Word of the podium n ° 2: stubborn.
Warning: do not tell Vonn that she can not do anything. That pulls her.
"Once something is in her mind, she will do it," said her sister, Laura Kildow.
Vonn's sister has been at his side during many surgeries. She noted the determination to return to the tracks.
"This image of her a few days after the operation, she sits on the floor in front of the television and tries to lift her foot," recalls Laura Kildow. "She was so focused that her leg was shaking. But she could not physically do it. But her look was like you knew she would not stop trying until she did.
That's why getting away was so difficult. She had planned to go until December and did not have the mind to leave early.
His body finally convinced him. Last two races at the world championships and no more. In the super-G, she crashed and suffered more bruising. But she returned even more determined Sunday in a descent where she had momentarily the head.
"I put the nerves aside and just enjoyed it," she said.
A bigger bonus: "I did it safely," she cracked.
Word of the podium n ° 3: game changer.
Vonn was one of the first women to regularly use men's downhill skis, which were longer and harder to control but gave more power. Given its renowned workout programs – sit-ups upside down? – she had no problem. She also wanted to race against men, which never succeeded.
She opened her eyes to what is possible, especially for a young person Mikaela Shiffrin , who has 56 wins in the World Cup and 24 in March.
"I wrote articles on it," Shiffrin said. "I was the biggest fan of Lindsey."
Vonn's success was not limited to the tracks. Projectors have always found it, a crossover athlete appearing on magazine covers, with famous sports stars – golfer Tiger Woods and now Nashville Predators defender, PK Subban – and wore stylish outfits during gala. She has also set up a foundation to help future generations find their "courage" in the interior.
All his plan to raise the profile of ski racing – a bit like Serena Williams did for tennis .
"I try to be dynamic, powerful and really create a speed where most people can not," said Vonn before the Pyeongchang Games last February, when she won bronze in the downhill. "In this way, I hope to leave a powerful impact on the sport and, hopefully, raise the level of women's skiing."
Consider that it is accomplished.
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